I just saw an article in Scientific Americanabout why brain speed is important, how it decays as we age, and what the effects are on daily life over time. But this is nothing new: we have been talking about brain speed for years!
Some highlights from the article include:
“Studies suggest that the speed of information processing changes with age… such that our thinking speeds up from childhood to adolescence, maintains a period of relative stability leading up to middle age, and finally, in late middle age and onward, declines slowly but steadily.”
I’m excited to announce that my brand new book Soft-Wiredis now out and available in paperback or Kindle format. This book was a labor of love, and it took me many years and many iterations to say exactly what I wanted, how I wanted to say it. The result is a book that covers much of my life’s work in neuroscience and brain plasticity research.
In the book, I explain how the brain develops and grows throughout youth and early adulthood, and how positive and negative brain plasticity remodel the brain across the lifespan. Then I offer my best advice for how to evaluate your own brain–and how your lifestyle may be changing it for better or worse–and offer clear, specific, scientifically proven advice for how you can rejuvenate, remodel, and reshape your brain at any age. I even share all the things that I do on a daily basis so I can stay sharp in my own life.
I received a wonderful comment about the hypothesis that early umbilical cord clamping might contribute to the risk of origin of autism from a wonderful former colleague, Dr. David Blake, a researcher in the Department of Neurology at the Medical College of Georgia. His observations:
Fraternal twins typically have different placentas, whereas identical twins share a placenta but have different cords. The blood supply, and pre-clamping susceptibility to anoxia, would surely be different.
There are plenty of reviews associating prenatal or perinatal anoxia with autism already (as well as advanced maternal and/or paternal age). Given that early cord clamping clearly impacts perinatal anoxia, and has been recommended against, it would seem prudent to just change practice and see where that leads in a few years. The evidence that would lead one to think that early cord clamping is a bad idea is elaborate and complex (and amazingly compelling with respect to autism), but changing practice, immediately, is not.
In a July 9th, 2008 post, I added oxygen deprivation incurred at childbirth as another factor potentially contributing to an increased incidence in autism. As I noted in that blog:
“We have published compelling evidence that peri-natal anoxia meets all of the other criteria for adding to “noisy” brain processing. It can have strong, selective impacts on cortical inhibitory processes, and degrades the ability of the cortex to develop normally-selective characteristics of response (see Strata, Merzenich et al, PNAS, 2005). At the same time, we had dismissed perinatal anoxia as a likely factor contributing to autism’s apparent rise because we could not see how ITS incidence could be growing over the past several decades.
Before I begin to talk about commonly applied strategies of prevention and rehabilitation designed to reduce the numbers of criminal offenders and recidivists amongst us, let’s begin with a note about statistics. In all of my earlier blogs, I talk about the “average” offender and their neurological and personal history. In reality, there are many classes of offenders. While the majority fit the wide bounds that I described, there are innumerable exceptions among the 7+ million individuals operating under the jurisdiction of an American court — including a significant minority who don’t easily fit into the very big sack I described. As for all human problems, real solutions must deal with real variability and complexity. Of course.
I strongly encourage our readers to check out the newly published book “Move Into Life”, authored by a highly distinguished therapist (and personal friend) Anat Baniel. Anat was originally trained by Moshe Feldenkrais, who developed a novel empirical perspective about physical/cognitive/perceptual rehabilitation that is broadly consistent with the principles of brain plasticity neuroscience. She has very significantly elaborated those practices, and has gradually encorporated a richer scientific perspective into them. Anat summarizes this deeper understanding in this important book — which is full of good information and advice, both for the therapist, and the patient. At the core of her approach is the understanding that awareness, cognition and movement are really inseparable, and that the establishment or recovery of ability in any one of these domains requires the integrated engagement of the impaired individuals and their brain in all of these dimensions of recovery. Put another way, isolated weakness or loss in ‘movement’ or ‘awareness’ or related ‘cognition’ is a human IMpossibilty. Movement is inextricably controlled on the basis of ‘feedback’ from our bodies and brains, and movement control is guided very directly by the cognitive resources that guide all of our behaviors. They are weaker or stronger, enabled or disabled TOGETHER. Neurological processes that control the flow of cognition and thought are not really different from those that control the flow of movement — and in fact are complexly, inextricably inter-twined!
I’ve spent the past 2 days participating in a workshop at the National Institutes of Health titled “Harnessing Neuroplasticity for Human Applications”. You would probably have enjoyed – and learned from — listening in on these discussions. The participants at this meeting (including many top American gurus and practitioners in neuroplasticity) outlined the state or current research and application, identified gaps in our understanding and impediments for making progress, tried to list obvious therapeutic targets, and considered how more powerful and effective multiplidisciplinary teams could be organized to develop new tools to help neglected medical populations. Different panels reported to the larger group on issues of 1) child health, disease & brain injury; 2) addiction and psychotic illness; 3) brain injury or stroke; and 4) normal and pathological aging.
In a recent book “Brain and Culture” (MIT Press), Dr. Bruce Wexler, a Yale psychiatrist, considers some of the many implications of brain plasticity research for cultural progressions. One special point of his book is the way that our brains specialize, through our plasticity mechanisms, to create a model of the culture (our world) into which we just happen to have been born. Once that model is deeply embedded within us, through massive schedules of progressive learning, it dominates our operational life. We literally grow the attributes of the culture into which we are immersed into ourSelves — and literally embed strong representations of our mates, families, clans, tribe, and nation into the Persons that evolve within us, through brain plasticity.
I was dismayed by the recent 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals rejection of a California law requiring that violent video games be labelled, with their purchase being limited to individuals over the age of 18. [You can read the court's Opinion by going to the 9th Circuit website.] What I most strongly objected to was the judges’ conclusion that no definite relationship has been established between violent games and the behavior of young game-players — arguing, in a sense, that what a child sees and does has no demonstrated negative impact on what that child IS. Judges Callahan, Kozinski and Thomas, be it known that this is equivalent, scientifically, to a rejection of Darwinism.
The following comments were written by Meghan Lil, who I knew as a darling, sassy little lass, 8 or 9 years old at the time of our first meeting. In my mind’s eye, she’s still a kid. In reality, she’s a beautiful, intelligent young woman. In her words:
“When I was in first grade, I was seemingly a normal child in every respect, except for one… which I worked hard to keep hidden. I simply could not read like the rest of my classmates. I couldn’t distinguish between similar sounds, such as B’s and D’s. I had no idea how to sound out the letters of the alphabet. Words made no sense to me. I lacked the phonetic skills to decipher even the simplest words. No matter how hard I worked at learning my ABC’s or even hearing the difference between ‘bad’ and ‘dad’ – I could not do it! I worked hard to compensate for this shortcoming, by memorizing the week’s readings for the Friday test and forgetting them days later. My teacher did not pick up on this; but my mom did. One day, my mom trapped me in the car, as she usually does when she wants to grill me for information, and told me I didn’t know how to read. We were driving over a bridge so I knew I couldn’t jump out of the car to avoid this conversation, so instead I denied it. She then looked right into my eyes and told me that she knew. So I looked up at her and I put my finger on my mouth and said “Sssssssshhhhhhh! Don’t tell anybody it’s a secret! No one is supposed to know!”